Are personality, identity, and social relations dictated by the environment, or is it an entity that is controlled solely on genes? Are those entities partly controlled by environment and partly controlled by genes? This profound question has continually peered its head into the conversation of many hot topics and discussions. This question has even found its way into the medical topic of cloning. As David Elliott claims, “…it is not clear that the cloned individual, like any other natural twin, needs to see her individuality as importantly connected to her genome, or even to phenotypic similarities with others” (p 158). Some individuals feel that cloning diminishes a sense of uniqueness in both the clone and the cloned person. Proponents against cloning also say that the lack of genetic variability creates a non-unique genome which will “impose limitations on an individual’s capacity for self-development, leading to a sense of disempowerment and personal inadequacy” (p.159) and that this lack of self-development affects human worth. In Elliott’s view, genetics is not the strongest factor that decides personality, identity and social relations. Thus creating clones from the genes of a donor does not restrict an individual, or clone from “feeling non-unique” (p.158). Therefore the idea that not having a “felt identity being psychologically damaging is not plausible” thus this is not a strong reason against cloning (p 158).
Though Elliott presented a few points that did have a sense of validity, there were a few points I want to argue against. Elliott argues that if biological similarities that persist between the cloned individual and the clone can reduce individuality and limit self-development, then the same could be said about twins and triplets. He also explains that environment is a better determinant of identity than genetics due to the data that demonstrates that separated twins show more divergent personalities. However, I believe that he omitted the myriads of data that demonstrate how twins that are separated tend to grow up with similar traits, likes, and dislikes. He cannot argue that genetics does not play a strong role in identity and thus he cannot argue that clones, who have similar genes, will develop different personalities and unique characters based on environment. Mikayla Stern-Ellis and Emily Nappi, two young girls from northern and southern California were shocked to find that they were half sisters, they both shared a sperm donor from Colombia. Having lived in different environments from birth up until their undergraduate career in college, it is remarkable to see how strong a role genetics plays in behavior. These sisters grew up in different parts of California, yet have very similar features such as a cleft chin, thick, curly hair, same skin tone, and same smile. Both also have similar interests in the sciences. And even more, they both ended up at Tulane University thousands of miles away from California. It is easy to say that their genes played a very strong role in their identity and personality. (Watch Video Here)
Elliott also omitted the fact that clones will more than likely be in the same environment as the cloned person and therefore their environment will similarly mold their personalities. Thus, there is a factor of developing very similar personalities since they are in the same environment and have identical genes. Elliott therefore cannot argue that uniqueness will not be threatened.
The argument that cloning will inhibit uniqueness is actually a very strong argument against cloning in that the large similarities between the cloned person and the clone will limit self-development and may feel of less worth. In my opinion, Elliott is missing pieces of data in his counter-argument to support cloning.
Elliott, David. “Uniqueness, individuality, and human cloning.” In Arguing about Bioethics, edited by Stephen Holland, 149-62. New York: Routledge, 2012.
62 thoughts on “Missing Data”
I think your post brings up an intriguing discussion in regards to nature vs. nurture. The notion that genetic factors influence personality has long been understood through the domestication of animals. As Darwin outlines in On the Origin of Species, “So in regard to mental qualities, their transmission is manifest in our dogs, horses, and other domestic animals. Besides special tastes and habits, general intelligence, courage, bad and good tempers, etc., are certainly transmitted.” However, science is now taking a different approach towards understanding genes, our personality and the environment. New studies are looking into the potential for personality to be non-genetically transmitted as more data supports the idea that genes are not deterministic. One study involving zebra finches, found that some personality traits were inherited through observed behavior, not genetics (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2335681/Enviroment-stronger-genes-determining-personality.html). As science advances our understanding of personality and the complex factors that influence it, I am interested to see how this will play into debates about uniqueness and cloning.
I enjoyed the fact that you tackled the topic of how the environment affects individual growth and development as I am very interested in how it relates to cloning. I’m not certain, however, if half sisters is necessarily the best way to support your argument for uniqueness as a reason against cloning. To me, this case is an exception to the norm and doesn’t rightfully represent how we are shaped by our environment. The uniqueness argument is a challenging one as we can only speculate how a reproductive clone would feel. In my opinion an individual created via cloning might not be too worried about the uniqueness of their genome when they would not have been created in the first place.
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